For the last five years, analysts have looked at the Denver Broncos and said, 'This is a talented roster missing one thing: a franchise quarterback.'
That was then. This is now.
The Broncos obliged those analysts and orchestrated a blockbuster trade with the Seattle Seahawks to acquire nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson. Surely now the national pundits can appreciate this roster, right? Right?
Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus ranked the Broncos' roster as the 14th most talented in the NFL. Lindsey writes that Denver's secondary, oddly enough considering the arrival of Wilson, is its biggest strength.
It's not quite the “No Fly Zone,” but Denver has put together a nice collection of talent in its secondary. Pat Surtain II looked like a veteran in his first season out of Alabama last year, as he gave up virtually nothing downfield in 2021 with just one reception allowed into his coverage on 14 targets of 20 or more yards. He and Justin Simmons head the unit entering 2022, but there aren't many weak points to attack with veterans Ronald Darby, K'Waun Williams, and Kareem Jackson rounding out the starting group.
Sure, the Broncos' secondary has a few high-profile names, which Lindsey highlighted, but I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call it the team's strength. This isn't 2015.
If I'm ranking Denver's top strength, I'm zeroing in squarely on the offensive side of the ball. Specifically, I'd say the Broncos' shining strength boils down to the skill positions. Namely, quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end — all the dudes (outside of the center) who touch the ball.
What about weaknesses though? Lindsey points to linebacker as the biggest glaring vulnerability.
Linebacker was one of the more common connections for the Broncos in the 2022 NFL draft, but they didn't end up prioritizing the position. That leaves Josey Jewell and either Jonas Griffith or Alex Singleton as the projected starting tandem with little in the way of depth behind them, particularly with Baron Browning expecting to transition to an on-ball outside linebacker role. Teams could look to exploit Singleton in coverage over the middle of the field after he earned just a 39.3 coverage grade with the Eagles in 2021.
I'll agree with Lindsey in this instance, if we're basing the question solely around personnel. The Broncos are banking on Jewell returning to the same form he showcased early last season before his season-ending pectoral injury.
The Broncos opted not to re-sign Alexander Johnson, in large part, due to the late-season emergence of Griffith in 2021. As impressive as he was (averaging 10-plus tackles per game), Griffith is the epitome of unproven, and while I anticipate that he'll win the other starting off-ball linebacker job next to Jewell, it's no guarantee.
This makes the team's decision to move Browning to rush linebacker all the more questionable as the Broncos have plenty of bodies to defend the edge, especially in light of the Randy Gregory signing and drafting of Nik Bonitto. What the defense is lacking is bonafide talent off the ball.
Lastly, Lindsey put his finger on the Broncos' biggest 'X-factor' in 2022.
Through four NFL seasons, Bradley Chubb has had two fairly productive seasons with at least 50 quarterback pressures to go with two injury-shortened campaigns (2019 and 2021). He has yet to develop into the kind of player that Denver was looking for when it drafted him fifth overall in the 2018 draft. Offseason additions such as Randy Gregory and Nik Bonitto should provide a spark to the Broncos' pass rush, but they would like to also see more out of a healthy Chubb this season.
What it Means
We're literally in the midst of the slowest period on the NFL calendar — that six-week gap between the end of the offseason training program and training camp. 'Tis the season for arbitrary lists like this one from PFF.
Is a No. 14 ranking too low for Denver? Considering Wilson's arrival, and which teams checked in higher than the Broncos, those who answer 'yes' to that question have an argument.
At the end of the day, however, it's absolutely meaningless offseason fodder. But at the very least, we have something Bronco-related to sink our teeth into whilst we kill time leading up to training camp.
For that, perhaps some thanks are in order for PFF.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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